Saturday, March 26, 2011

April 4-14, 2011: Finally, a Trial in Collins v Monroe County

[Edited May 14, 2011.] On December 31, 2008, the 3rd District Court of Appeal (DCA) reversed Circuit Judge David Audlin's 2007 dismissal of the 11-plaintiff Collins regulatory taking lawsuit. The Florida Supreme Court denied review July 16, 2009. After some judge-shifting, the liability trial was set by Circuit Judge Tegan Slaton, for April 4-14, 2011. Judge Slaton also dismissed three of the 11 plaintiffs before trial. The Collinses and Magrinis had received building permits -- but only after extensive delays. The Schneider heirs, according to Judge Slaton, "waited too long" to bring their taking claims (no statute of limitation argument here, just "you waited too long."). The Schneider heirs' claims are now being litigated by Greg Riordan, who is two generations removed from Mr. Schneider. These dismissals were appealed and are now before the 3rd DCA.

A Little History: On January 3, 1997, the original 11 Collins plaintiffs started down this path when Mr. Tobin and I filed their petitions for Beneficial Use Determinations ("BUDs"). The 1997 BUD process was effective January 4, 1996. It was written by the Florida Department of Community Affairs (DCA) as part of the Florida Keys 1996 Comprehensive Plan. Technically, the language was adopted -- by rule -- by the Governor and Cabinet sitting as the Florida Administration Commission (ADCOM). We would note that the 1996 ADCOM rule was a huge improvement over the unconstitutional BUD process that the County -- and ADCOM -- adopted in 1986. For those who were not involved in the 1982-86 evolution of the first ADCOM Florida Keys Comprehensive Plan, it is worth reviewing the 1986 BUD regulation to understand why landowners did not utilize the 1986 BUD to obtain compensation for the loss of all beneficial use of their land.

The 1986 BUD rule/regulation [this, too, had to be approved by ADCOM] required landowners whose property was unbuildable to: (1) make a "bona-fide attempt" to sell their post-1986 unbuildable property for no more than 40% of its pre-1986 Fair Market Value ("FMV"), and (2) if they found no buyers, these property owners would, at best, be entitled to compensation that would not exceed 40% of the land's pre-1986 FMV. The 1986 BUD rule/regulation was declared unconstitutional by Circuit Judge Richard Payne, in Gonzalez v. Monroe County, a lawsuit we initiated in 1988. Judge Payne's decision was affirmed by the 3rd DCA, with an opinion, in Monroe County v. Gonzalez, 593 So. 2d 1143 (Fla. 3d DCA 1992).

Ultimately, between 2002 and 2004, each of the Collins plaintiffs received a resolution, from the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners, stating that they had been "denied all beneficial use" of their subject properties. In 2004, they sued Monroe County for the just compensation they were entitled to under the United States and Florida Constitutions. On November 6, 2006, then-Chief Circuit Judge Richard Payne denied the County's and State's motions for summary judgment on liability. Unfortunately, Judge Payne was about to retire as of December 31, 2006, and this case was automatically assigned to newly-elected Circuit Judge David Audlin on January 1, 2007.

Judge Audlin turned out to be the governments' greatest ally in 2007. After assuming the Circuit Judge seat left vacant by Chief Circuit Judge Richard Payne, David Audlin swept all regulatory taking cases off his docket within a year! Needless to say, we spent many months on the Audlin appeals. We sucessfully reversed Judge Audlin's dismissals in Collins v. Monroe County and Beyers v. City of Marathon. At the same time, Pacific Legal Foundation ("PLF") successfully reversed Judge Audlin in Shands v. City of Marathon. [We are in the process of taking over PLF's responsibilities in Shands v. City of Marathon, while PLF focuses on appellate practice.]

So far, we have not been successful in reversing Judge Audlin's decision in McCole v. City of Marathon, nor Judge Garcia's decision in Sutton v. Monroe County. We believe these appeals were wrongly decided by the 3rd District Court of Appeal, but there are no longer any Florida courts in which we can continue these battles. There is a possibility, having exhausted State judicial remedies, that the Sutton and McCole cases can now be brought in a United States District Court under the United States Constitution. [At least U.S. trial judges do not have to worry about re-election.]